Five Best Friday Columns

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Lloyd Constantine on debit card fees Bank of America justifies its new $5 per month fee for debit card holders as a way to recover funds lost from new regulations that have "changed the economics of the cards." Other banks have taken similar measures, but "the banks' simplistic statements are merely an attempt to rationalize and obfuscate one of the largest illegal transfers of wealth from consumers to banks in American history," writes commercial litigator Lloyd Constantine in The New York Times. Debit cards were conceived to replace personal checks, and banks save money on check processing when customers use them. Even so, banks designed them to look like credit cards and charged retailers similar fees on transactions "despite the fact that purchases made with a debit card didn't involve a loan from the bank, posed very little fraud risk and were extravagantly profitable to banks because they eliminated the costs of processing and clearing checks." In 1996, Constantine litigated an anti-trust suit that resulted in a settlement of of $3.4 billion paid to plaintiffs and federal requirements lowering the transaction fees. The Dodd-Frank law attempted to further lower the fees, but to counteract the losses, banks are implementing new fees. They are legally free to do this, but in a market economy, consumers can punish companies for raising prices, as they have with Netflix in recent months, and Constantine says consumers should do the same here. "Retail customers of Bank of America and of any other bank that follows its lead should swiftly move their business."

John McCain, Lindsey Graham, Mark Kirk, and Marco Rubio on Libya When four Republican senators visited Tripoli, last week, they found it "surprisingly secure and orderly." The senators "walked through Martyrs' Square, where Libyans cheered and thanked America and our NATO allies," write John McCain, Lindsey Graham, Mark Kirk, and Marco Rubio in The Wall Street Journal. "It is in our national interest for Libya to consolidate the gains of its revolution, and in the critical months ahead we must deepen our support for the Libyan people," they write. Most immediately, America can provide medical assistance to the Libyans, overwhelmed with patients wounded in the months of war. The Transitional National Council has said it will reimburse the United States, which could send a medical ship or transport patients to our medical facilities in Europe. America can also help secure Libya by aiding them as they safeguard weapon stockpiles, unite militias under the TNC authority, and train a civilian security force. We can aid their democratic transition, offering the help of our NGOs to monitor elections and draft a constitution. "Americans have had their disagreements over the U.S. intervention in Libya," the senators write. "What remains is an enormous opportunity for the U.S. to build a partnership with a democratic and pro-American Libya that contributes to the expansion of security, prosperity and freedom across a pivotal region at a time of revolutionary change." 

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Richard Cohen on Sarah Palin's exit Sarah Palin finally announced she will not seek the presidency in 2012, but by that time, interest in her candidacy had seriously declined. "The story clung to the very bottom of the New York Times -- just a tease, actually, not the story itself. For that you had to turn to page A22. Such ignominy," writes Richard Cohen in The Washington Post. Still, we should reflect on the lessons of her political rise one last time, Cohen writes. Palin rose from near anonymity in 2008. "It was that first speech of hers that made her career. She just blazed -- a comely package of dancing eyes, charm and charisma." Slowly, people saw her to be "something of a dope," who was unqualified for the vice presidency. "Her responses to questions -- that stuff about being able to see Russia was just plain asinine -- were stunningly bad. She couldn't say what newspapers she read -- and then blamed the diligent Katie Couric for having the effrontery to ask her." And yet, "it was, in fact, that very naivete, inexperience and lack of knowledge that commended her to so many people." Herman Cain, the GOP's candidate du jour, has learned from her that one doesn't need political experience or knowledge of foreign affairs to find success. He seems to campaign very little, using the media as his mouthpiece by participating in debates and appearing on Sunday shows. "He can't win," Cohen thinks, "but this will be fun for a while." In the end, "Palin will fade," Cohen writes, but her legacy will be the fortune she made and the path she blazed for celebrity politicians. 

Robert Kirshner on dark matter and the Nobel prize Scientists now widely accept that dark matter and dark energy make up much of the universe while ordinary matter comprises just 5 percent of everything. "If this is right, the things we observe in the universe are not the important things," writes Harvard astronomer Robert Kirshner in The New York Times. "In the cosmic setting, the fate of the universe depends on a tug of war between dark matter, which is trying to slow down the expansion of the universe, and dark energy, which is trying to speed things up." Two teams of physicists won the Nobel Prize this week for discovering that the universe's expansion is accelerating, i.e. that the dark energy is winning the tug-of-war. Neither team really believed their findings at first. "The energy needed to drive this acceleration seemed too crazy." Yet we now accept their findings as fact, "not by persuasive argument, but by evidence. They realized that if we looked far back enough, we should find a transition from negative acceleration to positive, and the data from the Hubble telescope backed up this theory. Now, Kirshner suggests, we should seek to better understand the nature of dark energy. Often, investment in science is justified only when it leads to technological advance or medical breakthroughs. "But even in stringent times, it seems like a good idea to do some science to find out what the world is made of and how it works."

Virginia Postrel on comic books as art A banner in a window of the Andy Warhol museum in Pittsburgh displays "a strikingly realistic portrait of Superman." Comic book fans can recognize it as the work of Andy Ross, a star artist in the comic book world whose work is on exhibit in "the first museum show devoted to a single artist's renderings of superheroes, treating the works not as cultural history but as art," writes Virginia Postrel in Bloomberg View. "It's a very Warholian gesture, honoring commercial art whose subject matter is beloved by the public but traditionally scorned by critics." The exhibit underlines a shift for comic books from a genre met with "scorn" to a "cultural staple" and huge money-maker. In the '60s, the pop art movement "left them stigmatized as camp -- the Zap! Pow! Holy Ridicule! of the short-lived 'Batman' TV series. Comic fans generally loathe that show." Michael Uslan vowed to "restore Batman to his true and rightful identity" and the modern Batman film franchise he has executive produced has done just that. "These triumphs depended on taking a more direct, less ironic approach to superheroes -- one that could acknowledge the fantasy while nonetheless creating a world in which superheroes seemed real." The artwork on display gives pleasure in its "color and form" but it also provides a psychological "escapism," Postrel writes, as an ideal way to solve the world's problems. The genre survives because it is versatile. "Stories can be grim or joyful, philosophical or silly, revisionist or traditional, family-friendly or adults-only." It still has room for "camp," she acknowledges, but these days, America unabashedly "loves their super-powered progeny, all the way to the bank -- and now the museum." 

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.